No degree, but ASU names scholarship for Obama

April 11, 2009 4:04:29 PM PDT
Stung by criticism of its decision not to award President Barack Obama an honorary degree when he makes a commencement address next month, Arizona State University announced Saturday it will rename a scholarship program for the president. ASU President Michael Crow also issued an apology for the "confusion" surrounding the honorary degree decision.

"It has always been our intention to recognize and honor President Obama's accomplishments during his visit, but we had not yet determined the best or most appropriate way to do so," Crow said in a statement. "Although the focus and attention of the media and others has been on an honorary degree, we never felt that was the only - or even the best - means of honoring his tremendous service to our country."

The school has been mocked in various online forums since the student-run State Press newspaper first reported that ASU decided against awarding an honorary degree to the president at May 13 graduation ceremonies. A series of statements by university officials followed as the story refused to die.

University spokeswoman Sharon Keeler told The Associated Press on Wednesday that ASU's practice was to give honorary degrees to people who had a body of work and had been in their positions for a long time. "His body of work is yet to come. That's why we're not recognizing him with a degree at the beginning of his presidency," Keeler said.

Crow then told the Arizona Republic on Thursday that the university has a policy of not awarding honorary degrees to sitting politicians.

Politico reported on Friday that Crow was reconsidering, although the Republic reported that he said in an e-mail that it would be incorrect to say that.

Finally on Saturday, Crow announced that ASU would name its "most important" scholarship the President Barack Obama Scholars program. Crow's statement also said ASU was expanding the program to offer thousands of its most needy students a chance to attend the university. Details of the program weren't announced.

Many disagreed with the decision not to award the degree, including ASU student Brian Goegan, who last year was president of ASU Students for Obama.

Goegan argued that Obama has already made significant accomplishments as a U.S. senator and as the nation's leader. Recent recipients of honorary degrees at ASU include J. Craig Venter, an internationally known scientist credited for developing high-volume genome sequencing, and Wu Qidi, vice minister of education of the People's Republic of China. The university said it had no plans to award any honorary degrees this year.

Obama will, however, receive an honorary doctor of laws degree from the University of Notre Dame when he delivers a commencement speech there on May 17.

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